SIU Automotive continues its 70-year history of setting the pace – SIU News
May 13, 2022
SIU Automotive continues its 70-year history of setting the pace
Whether the work was in temporary military buildings or a state-of-the-industry facility, the strength of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s nationally recognized automotive program continues to resonate through seven decades.
The School of Automotive is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2022, and while the cars, trucks and various components have definitely changed during that time, the program’s foundation of its people — faculty, students and outstanding alumni support have not.
The program is planning a daylong alumni reunion on Sept. 24, during the university’s Family Weekend, at the Transportation Education Center that will include current students hosting a car meet.
For Neil Swartz, recently retired as a vice president for Toyota North America and current SIU Foundation Board member, coming to SIU Carbondale and learning about the opportunities of an automotive technology education was a game-changer. Swartz earned his applied science degree in automotive technology in 1976 and bachelor’s degree in automotive management in 1978. He initially saw a future as a “capable and fully certified technician.”
“My professors opened my eyes to a much bigger world and the ways I could leverage my automotive technology education in the broader automotive industry,” he said.
“What I found at SIU both surprised and challenged me, and it’s the secret sauce that has made the automotive program the envy of every other automotive school in the country — it is the SIU automotive faculty.
“From the beginning I could sense that these instructors were excited to share what they know with us. Even more fantastic was how hard they worked with the students to make each one of us feel their passion for automotive technology. They truly wanted us to understand, to learn and to grow — most of all they wanted each of us to be successful.”
Student success, strong industry relationships and maintaining a deep family tradition among students and alumni remains critical, said Eugene Talley, the program’s interim director. No other program has the linkages to the automotive industry and partnerships that have been developed over time, said Talley, a 1993 graduate who returned to join the faculty in 2009.
“The strong program is the result of our students being very successful and of leading this industry,” he said. “It’s all about our students and what they are doing and showcasing their talents so much that the companies find SIU is the place to come and recruit.”
Share a long history
Mike Behrmann, an automotive program graduate who retired in May after more than 33 years as a faculty member, including 12 as department chair, notes the first automotive-related courses on campus were held in 1938. SIU Automotive began as a degree program in 1952 with founding program director L.D. Willey as a part of the university’s then-Vocational Technical Institute, spending nearly six decades in buildings near Carterville.
In a competitive admissions program for more than 20 years, there are about 300 students for the spring 2022 semester and close to 3,000 alumni. With between 12 and 15 baccalaureate automotive programs in the United States, SIU Automotive remains one of the few university-related automotive programs in the nation, Behrmann said.
“We work very closely with our students, and our students get to know us,” he said. “We work hard to maintain that family and that relationship well beyond after they graduate …….